The UK Hallmarking Act 1973 (1999)

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Don't be duped into thinking that silver doesn't have to be hallmarked.

 Silver items under 7.78g produced in the UK can be hallmarked/stamped as English or Sterling Silver without testing but items over this weight have to be assayed and stamped with at least 3 stamps: a makers mark, a metal and finess (purity) mark (eg 925 or 999 etc) and an assay office mark. Most of the European countries have similar or more simplified values in place which are recognised Europe-wide.

Basically if I make a pendant for example (I'm in the UK) out of sterling silver and it weights less than 7.78g then I can stamp it with a 925 stamp. If it weighs more than this and I wish to sell it as sterling silver I would need to register a makers mark, have a makers mark stamp made and send my piece to the assay office for testing and stamping. 

So, remember if it isn't hallmarked it is VERY unlikely to be silver.  It can just be stamped as silver (without testing) if it is under 7.78g but if it is more than this weight then it also has to be assayed.  You should then be asked to make your own stamp so that the jewellery pieces can be assigned to you as the maker.

Silver is one of the easier precious metals to check out. Just grab a white soft cloth and wipe the article firmly. If the item is silver you will have a black mark on the cloth. This is because real silver oxidizes. Sometimes it is even easier - I always have a magnet on me when looking at buying jewellery. If the item sticks to the magnet it is iron and not silver. Don't just rely on this though - it could be plastic and that isn't magnetic! 

If you find someone is trading without following the UK hallmarking law I suggest you firstly report them to ebay and then, if they are UK based, contact your nearest Trading Standards Office.

Sterling Silver (hallmarked) ball chain.
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Sterling Silver (hallmarked) ball chain.

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